How Does Faith Impact African-American Communities?

Jeremiah Camara is an author and filmmaker whose latest project, a documentary called Contradiction, explores the impact faith has had on African-American communities:

Contradiction explores the paradox of an abundance of churches coupled with the great number of societal ailments in Black communities and seeks to find if there is a correlation between high praise and low productivity. Camara talks to the faithful and the faithless to determine the empirical benefits of prayer, worship and religious loyalty.

I asked Camara to tell me more about the film and what inspired him to make it. This is what he said (via email):

There is a peculiar consistency that one cannot help but notice when riding through predominately African American neighborhoods in most major cities in the U.S. Black communities are typically saturated with churches. More often than not, the abundance of churches co-exists in the midst of impoverishment, despondency and deprivation on countless levels. The question then, becomes, if the presence of God allegedly dwells within these “holy” facilities, why are the surrounding areas laden with so many societal issues? If God answers all things (according to the Bible) and if praise, worship, belief and love for God are prerequisites to prosperity, then why are Blacks, as a collective, in such an unprosperous position? Can there possibly be a connection between high-praise and low-productivity? This analysis is the crux of the film.

One cannot deny the historical value of belief and deep faith in the narrative of Black life in America but the tradition of using prayer as a first-line of defense and relying upon supernatural intervention to solve problems in an age of information reflects a people that are operating outside of the context of a modern paradigm. There was a time where the only place that Blacks could turn to was the institution of the church. However, it was not the inherent properties of religion that helped Blacks gain various ground in America but religion’s ability to unite people in fighting a common cause. Understandably, the church is like an old friend that has served Blacks well throughout times when nothing else did. But, despite this legacy there comes a time when Blacks must be open to meeting new friends such as the “institution” of logic, reason and freethinking. Perhaps the most insidiously devastating generational hand-me-down proposal in African American culture is when we were advised to “Lay our burdens in the lap of Jesus and told that God will provide all of our needs.” Literal adherence to this biblical axiom has not only helped to hinder our will to be self-reliant but it has also created a state of dependency upon divine intervention unparalleled in most other groups.

One of the main objectives when creating the film was to present the information with a spirit of respect; not being condemnatory towards anyone’s beliefs. I think we accomplished that. Despite this respectful approach, there is no doubt that many viewers will feel the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. I think Contradiction is an important film because it creates a historical and cultural context to better understand the effects of religion in modern society. Contradiction forces us to confront many nonsensical aspects about our beliefs while challenging our assumptions and fostering a long overdue dialogue about faith.

The movie will hopefully be in theaters (and elsewhere) in the future. If you’d like to stay updated on its progress, Like the Facebook page!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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